A day after Independence Day last year, on August 16, an announcement from Chennai based production house Papertales Pictures was made. It said that young filmmaker A Priyadarshini will be directing the most anticipated biopic in the country - that of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, whose life events are contentious even today.
Previously, two other directors AL Vijay of Thalaivaa fame and veteran director Barathiraja too had made similar announcements, of presenting the life story of the late AIADMK leader on the big screen. Priyadarshiniâ€™s endeavour stands out not only because it is an ambitious project but also because this will be her very first directorial.
Her vision is not just in directing the biopic but delivering it in on an ambitious international scale.
â€śI know I am technically sound and the film will be made on par with international biopics like Abraham and Margaret Thatcher's The Iron Lady,â€ť says the young director.
Priyadarshini who was previously employed with India Post, entered the film industry when she was about 21, assisting director Mysskin in his 2014 paranormal thriller Pisasu. Closely working with the director on his films, Priyadarshini picked up her filmmaking skills, harbouring dreams of directing her own film soon.
The young director, now 27, tells us that her first script, in fact, was a science fiction story. Yet the events of 2016, that have transformed Tamil Nadu, were to transform Priyadarshini as well.
â€śI never got the opportunity to meet or interact with Jayalalithaa while she was alive. But after she passed away, I got to see her in close proximity while paying her my last respects. This incident moved me greatly and by the time I came out from the funeral grounds, I was sure I wanted to direct a biopic on her,â€ť begins Priyadarshini.
However, that was not the first time Jayalalithaaâ€™s presence had inspired Priyadarshini. Hailing from a family of AIADMK supporters from Pollachi in Coimbatore district, Priyadarshiniâ€™s childhood gave her ample opportunities to listen to stories on Jayalalithaa. â€śMy father was a member of the party. My aunts and uncles would take part in campaigns, theyâ€™d also tell me stories of how Amma overcame all adversities in her life. Those stories have always inspired me as a woman,â€ť she tells us.
Priyadarshini also weighs in on gender discrimination and how Jayalalithaa emerged to stay on top of it all in spite of the hurdles she faced. â€śI know it is difficult for a woman to work in any kind of industry. But being in politics topped it all. Especially the '80s were too hard on women who had to power through a very male dominant society,â€ť she points out.
Priyadarshini shares a particular incident from her life that left a great impact on her.
â€śI think it was before the 2011 elections. My father, who was bedridden, needed help to register his vote. He also couldnâ€™t talk and so before I left, he lifted his hands to show the two-leaves party symbol. The image is seared into my memory even today. That was when I felt the connection towards Amma,â€ť says Priyadarshini.
Did she ever want to join Jayalalithaaâ€™s party? â€śI like politics but I never wanted to join. I want everyone to talk politics in real life. Politics is not just about voting. Thereâ€™s politics in everything that we do. The sign of a good democracy is when people can discuss politics freely,â€ť she reasons.
The Iron Lady
In over six months since Priyadarshini announced her biopic, the young filmmaker has received mixed responses from the industry. â€śBoth positive and negative comments Iâ€™ve got. Everyone asked me how I plan on handling this project. While my family and friends continue to give me great support, it is the negative feedback that Iâ€™m paying attention to. I believe only criticism can keep us going forward. People who might tell you nice things in front of your face, might talk bad later. I donâ€™t take it very hard,â€ť she says.
Given that three biopics are being planned on Jayalalithaa, how different might her film be? â€śI donâ€™t know the perspective of the others and it is not right on my part to talk about that. I know my perspective will be different. As a woman when I narrate the story, it will surely be different,â€ť she says with confidence.
For her biopic, Priyadarshini has spoken to people who have been around since the 1950s. â€śIâ€™m speaking to her personal and political circle. Iâ€™ve also spoken to people who are in touch with her family,â€ť she adds.
Priyadarshini believes that the books written on Jayalalithaa might not offer any insights than whatâ€™s already available. â€śI have not read the books that have been written on her. Iâ€™m sure they will all have the same details. These books might not tell us anything about the personal life of Amma. Also, these books have been written when she was alive, the authors might not have written everything,â€ť she tells us.
But how does she plan on presenting the life story of one of the most influential leaders of the country within a limited runtime? How has her script balanced the different facets of Jayalalithaa?
â€śThe film will cover her life in cinema, politics and also about her final days. We will also show a little bit of her childhood. I am sure, any woman, at the end of the film, will leave the theatre inspired by Jayalalithaa,â€ť says Priyadarshini.
Yet Jayalalithaaâ€™s life has had no dearth of controversies. Priyadarshini tells us that her film will address all of it, treating some of her controversies with a more psychological take.
â€śWe have treated this psychologically. A man can be in politics. But when a woman enters it, she might have to do certain things to keep herself in a certain spot. She might not be the person we know her to be in real life. Jayalalithaa did and behaved in a certain way to protect herself. Controversies can also protect a woman,â€ť she explains.
She also reasons that Jayalalithaa was not the only leader to be caught in corruption. â€śAll political leaders have done it and are still doing it. We canâ€™t say she is the only one. But she had corrected her mistake,â€ť she claims.
Talking about bringing Nithya Menen on board, one of the industryâ€™s most talented actors, Priyadarshini tells us that this is the great strength for her project. â€śI started with 10 actors on my list but finally it was Nithya Menen who fit into the role perfectly. We considered her body language and her physical appearance. Her life too has similarities with Amma. Both of them have spent a little of their childhood in Bengaluru for instance,â€ť shares Priyadarshini.
Having narrated the script for over 6 hours, she had to wait for about two days before Nithya Menen agreed to take up the project.
â€śBoth of us are very confident about this project,â€ť she adds.
Her next big announcement will be that of Sasikala, Jayalalithaaâ€™s close aideâ€™s, character. â€śWe finalised it one month ago but we are waiting for the right time to make the announcement,â€ť she tells us. â€śThe Iron Lady will begin rolling later this month," finished its director.